Big City Mountaineers helps young people climb mountains — literally and metaphorically. Serving five states, the Golden, Colorado-based nonprofit aims to transform the lives of underserved urban youth through wilderness exploration programs that instill critical life skills.
As if that mission isn’t challenging enough, Big City Mountaineers also contends with endless documents that need signatures standing between them and the students they serve. Steve Stormoen of RightSignature caught up with Elizabeth Williams, director of programs for Big City Mountaineers, to find out how this exciting, inventive organization uses RightSignature to turn that mountain of paperwork into a molehill.
What is Big City Mountaineers? What do you do?Elizabeth Williams: For urban and low-income students who don't have the opportunity to go outdoors, we see Big City Mountaineers as a way to get outside of their comfort zone, challenging themselves over the course of a weeklong expedition. We see our expeditions as a way for these young people to develop life skills such as self-esteem, community living, goal setting and the ability to overcome obstacles. After climbing literal mountains, we hope they can climb metaphorical mountains back at home.
One of my favorite stories from last season, I had a kid whose name was Abe. He was not very excited — as you can imagine, he was nervous. It was his first time doing anything like climbing a mountain, and this was way outside his comfort zone. We went out to his house to convince him, and it took a long time, but he ended up having a really great experience in the backcountry.
I interviewed him after the trip and asked him what did he learn. He said, “I learned that I am the kind of person who other people can look up to.” He told me, “My goal is to be respectable so my siblings and other people can look up to me.” That’s the kind of impact our programs can have.
How does RightSignature help you in your mission?EW: We initially signed up for RightSignature to handle a very specific kind of document, but we quickly found more and more uses for it. To start, we work with local Boys & Girls Clubs, tutors, foster agencies and so on, to meet young people who might want to go on one of our expeditions. We use RightSignature to send contracts and agreements with those agencies, but these documents sometimes need to be signed by four or five different people. RightSignature allows us to send these documents easily and quickly to all the right people.
My favorite thing about RightSignature is that it automatically sends a completed copy of the agreement to signers and me, but also our accounting staff. I don't have to shuffle papers or micromanage the contract when I have so many other things to work on. I just have to click “Send.”
We also use RightSignature for our cause marketing fundraiser — we get volunteers to sign up to climb a mountain and gather sponsors raising money for their climb. We work with roughly 100 people through that program, and everyone has to sign a contract. There are little details that tend to be slightly different each time, so we use RightSignature’s Reusable Templates to fill in Merge Fields and customize each document just how we need it.
Finally, we use RightSignature for staffing. When we hire someone new who works remotely or a field instructor, it’s an invaluable tool. We had an instructor this summer who was living and traveling in India during the interview process. There was a lot in the hiring packet she wouldn’t normally be able to do from a different country, but she was able to sign our RightSignature document from her phone in India and get it back to us almost immediately.
What’s the biggest challenge Big City Mountaineers faces?
EW: We have two great challenges. The first is common to any nonprofit: we always have to find new innovative ways to fund our programs. In the past, we’ve come up with partnerships in the outdoor industry or our fundraising climbs. We work to serve more and more students every year, and budgets will always be the limiting factor. New avenues for fundraising lets us complete our mission even better.
Our second challenge is that the outdoors is becoming more of a mystery to young people today. Convincing students to get outside and give us a chance is more of a challenge than ever before. Our solution is to offer more accessible programs, single-day expeditions that a nervous student can try out to test the waters. Because we know from experience that the young people that most tentative, like Abe, are the ones who most need to go.